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CDC Relaxes In-School Masking Guidelines For Vaccinated Students And Staff

On Friday July 9, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its guidance on mask-wearing within K-12 schools, advising that vaccinated teachers and students no longer need to wear masks inside school buildings. In anticipation of the 2021-2022 school year, the CDC published new guidelines, highlighting the need for flexible, context-specific decision-making based on local factors to ensure a safe return to in-person learning. Alongside guidance from district medical advisors and state and local health authorities, these guidelines will assist Wisconsin school districts as they plan for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

The CDC referenced vaccination as the current leading public health prevention strategy in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic and asserted that promoting it can help schools return to in-person instruction, sports, and extracurricular activities more quickly and safely. In addition to vaccination, the CDC stressed the continued importance of wearing masks indoors and when in crowded settings for unvaccinated individuals, especially when physical distancing cannot be maintained. However, it no longer deems face coverings necessary for vaccinated students and staff in the educational realm. 

Within school buildings, the CDC encourages a physical distance of at least three (3) feet between students—combined with indoor mask-wearing by those who are not fully vaccinated—to reduce transmission risk. When physical distancing is not possible for all students to return in-person, indoor masking for those not fully vaccinated is especially important.  Additionally, its updated guidelines suggest that schools implement layered prevention strategies, such as masks, physical distancing, screening testing, etc., to protect those who are not fully vaccinated, including those currently ineligible for the vaccine such as children under 12. Finally, the CDC underscored the relevance of local factors such as community transmission rates, vaccination coverage, and use of screening testing in the schools, to the process for determining which prevention strategies to implement or relax, suggesting that the appropriate prevention strategies for one school may not fit the environment of another.  The CDC also recommends, when schools are considering removing prevention strategies, remove one at a time and closely monitor with adequate testing.

The new CDC guidance also provides updated recommendations related to various activities and contexts, such as quarantine and isolation protocols taking into account vaccination status, food service and school meals, recess, physical education, sports and extracurriculars, visitors, staff, and individuals with disabilities or other health care needs who may need accommodations, modifications or other assistance when implementing safety protocols.  

As a result of this update from the CDC, school districts should take into account local factors, work with their local health officials, and watch for further guidance from state and local health authorities when drafting transmission prevention strategies for the start of the new school year.

If you have any questions about this Legal Update, please contact Attorneys Claire Hartley at chartley@buelowvetter.com or (262) 364-0260, Corinne Duffy at cduffy@buelowvetter.com or (262) 364-0261, or your Buelow Vetter attorney. 

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